Baroque and Sinister Diagonals

Diagonals © Knut Skjærven.

Diagonals © Knut Skjærven.

I had a challenge understanding why some images visually held together even if the content was rather complex and varied.

So with this image. I knew that I liked it, but that was more of a spontanesous reaction than anything else. Something had drawn me to this scene when I was there. And why did I crop it this way? I wanted to know why.

I had to study it more closely and it was then that I found that the line structure had a certain pattern: There was a seemingly extensive use of almost parallels to the two diagonals. I had been enhancing the movements in the shot by stressing the diagonal patterns.

I remember that the main diagonals had specific names. I now wanted to find out more since this was obviously something I could use.

I had not taken that much notice of these things earlier since I found it, primary, an area for painters and people who were into drawing. Some would say, for proper artists. That was about to change.

The diagonal moving from the upper left corner to the lower right corner is named The Sinister Diagonal. The other one is The Baroque Diagonal. I wanted to learn not only the  functions, but their names too.

There are even psychological implications inherent in both. The Baroque Diagonal is the positive, the engaging, the optimistic one. The Sinister Diagonal is the more gloomy, end of the party, go back home type of message. Some say that is the message they carry.

These things have, in my humble opinion, to be taken with a grain of salt since such inherent qualities have to be balanced with a variety of other influences. But I was, indeed, ready to listen.

You may ask why I would want to know and internalize strange words like baroque and sinister and put them to use in a context like this. And why should YOU know them? Two reasons for that.

The first one is that I believe that having a proper and relevant language opens new dimensions of perception. If you don’t know the words, you don’t see the herds.

The second reason is that it makes communication much more easy and efficient. I can now verbally point to a dimension within this picture, and within all others like it, that people will understand without much efforts. I could say, for instance, that the image above is held together by repetitive use of baroque and/or sinister movements. And you will immediately know what I am talking about.  That are the reasons why.

No more words. The idea with this post was to point to the two diagonals and to highlight the two names: baroque and sinister. And to point to their supporting cousins: The green lines in the photo supporting the baroque movement, the yellow lines supporting the sinister movement.

For those you find these speculations interesting, let me refer you to two great sites. The first one being The Barnstone Studios, the second one being Adam Marelli Photo. These are eminent sources. You will find much more information on these sites.

Good luck with it.

© Knut Skjærven. All rights reserved: Text and picture.

January 5, 2013.

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  1. #1 by Tony Cearns on January 6, 2013 - 6:00 pm

    Very interesting Knut – I had not come across this before. Reminds me of the mathematics of attractors in real functions and attracting/repelling fixed points. As the sinister diagonals point down to the smiling girl, I would say this particular arrangement is “attracting” in type, bouncing the attention into the photograph. The angle between the diagonals gives a convergent rather than divergent behaviour. I wonder what the effect on the eye would have been if the diagonals had been curved in such a away as to make the behaviour divergent? Very different emotion I suspect.

    • #2 by Knut Skjaerven on January 7, 2013 - 10:52 am

      Thanks for this illuminating comment, Tony. I like the words you use here: converging and diverging. I hope it is ok with you that I adapt them in this context?

      I only commented on the line structure here. For me one additional thing that fixes this image is the stare of the umbrella guy. He has a good pose. He is hard to get away from.

      Have a good day :-).

  2. #3 by Tony Cearns on January 7, 2013 - 11:35 pm

    Yes quite an intense stare

  3. #4 by Kari A. Dodson on January 17, 2013 - 12:56 pm

    If there is one idea that every photographer should store in their tool box it would be “the diagonal.” The diagonal line is a powerful compositional tool that will bring action and vitality to any image. Even if your subject is sleeping they can be brought to life through the composition. In this picture, the sinister diagonal (running from the right side to the upper left) is the dominant force. This line connects the heads of both boys and links them in a relationship. When the subject of picture falls along a diagonal and is supported by its reciprocal ( the line interesting it at 90°), it will jump off of the screen as a dominant force.

  4. #5 by Becky on February 8, 2018 - 6:20 pm

    Hi Knut,

    May I use your photo in a class presentation? What a great description of baroque and sinister! Thank you.

    • #6 by knutskjaerven on February 8, 2018 - 7:13 pm

      Hi Becky

      Sure but please be kind and refer to the blog and to me. Would that be ok? By the way, which class are you talking about?

      Best regards


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